Find it awkward to network? Your exhibitors/delegates/speakers* agree.. (*delete as necessary)
Shouldn’t our clients be networking geniuses by now? They come to our events each year, after all. So why is it that at a lot of events clients seem to find networking a bit tricky or even impossible?
If you think that’s not the case in your business, go back to some of the clients that you can’t rebook, or who make vague statements about ‘not meeting the right kind of people’ and think again.
I’ve been building up some ideas and research around improving the experience and outcome of networking at events when I came across this video, developed by Social Media Marketing World (the goal was to help their more introverted clients).
The video has some good points on how to network – useful for newbies on event teams as well as clients – but is also a timely prompt for Event Owners to rethink about their role in making those valuable connections happen.
Having attended hundreds of events, there are of course plenty of fantastic examples fun, energising and well-facilitated networking. All too often, though, event owners think that once a bar and some drinks are provided, our job is done.
What this video reminded me is that some groups of clients may need a bit more help. I think it also rightly makes the point that card-swapping is not networking… networking is about building relationships that deliver long term value.
And it’s not just delegates, is it? How many of us would love to help exhibitors have more confidence in interacting with people? We have all had clients that didn’t know how to use the time onsite properly, then ‘didn’t meet enough people’ and before you knew it a rebookable client had been lost.
We talk a lot in our sector about how it’s The Onsite Experience that sets us apart from the competition. But how much are we thinking about tailoring networking to different sub-sets of clients and their interests or needs? If we want to keep people engaged and getting value from events, we need to make every aspect of their time onsite deliver.
Finally – in this video they talk about a workshop that they ran onsite, a mini-training for introvert delegates on how to network. The point here is not that everyone should do this specific thing, but that we could think about a specific profile of delegate and then tailor something specifically to their needs.
This chimes in with other things I’ve heard about, including the Cannes Lions event where they put first time attendees into small groups – a starter pack of event buddies, if you like. They then give them a group-concierge who shows them how to navigate the event and where to go/who to meet. Amazing – all of sudden a potentially overwhelming event is manageable, enjoyable and truly useful.
I suppose the point is this… networking is the single biggest driver of live events. If event owners don’t take care of it, someone else will. You only have to look at recent high profile event launches to see that competitors are really putting genuine thought into this. Are you?
- What did clients tell you about how easy/how difficult it was to meet valuable contacts your last event? Have you got data on how people felt about onsite networking?
- In your own networking approach, is your goal to get the card or to foster a relationship? What do you find out about them? Are you generous with what and who you know? Would your network describe you as someone who has connected them to other useful people or information?
- What can you do on your next event to support different groups of clients? What needs to happen for them to make the most of relationship-building opportunities?
For what it’s worth, often my personal challenge onsite is The First Conversation. Once I’ve gone out of my way to talk with someone new, the rest falls into place. I used to get quite anxious about networking at an event as an attendee (not if I was running it – that’s easy enough).
The key for me was to stop worrying about what I needed in the long term from my network, and to focus more on getting to know people and on how to help those new event buddies meet the people they need to… that way I was someone they remembered after an event and relationships would build and grow from there.
Thoughts and comments welcome – whether it’s to share how you have improved your own networking skills, or how your event business is rethinking the issue…
Find out more about how VIA Consulting can help you and your team tackle this and the other drivers around content business growth.